Glasgow Subway first in UK to have no staff on trains

The 125-year-old subway system has undergone a £300m upgrade and will get new trains in 2023.

Glasgow Subway first in UK to have no staff on trains SNS Group
Subway: Iconic travel system will not be manned by staff in UK first.

Glasgow’s iconic subway will become the first in the UK to have no staff at all on trains following a £300m upgrade – but will retain its ‘shoogle’.

The 125-year-old subway system, the third oldest after London and Budapest, will get new trains in 2023.

It is anticipated that even with new trains the carriages will continue to rock from side to side noisily – which some people find a charming heritage quirk and others find causes travel sickness.

The news has met with a mixed reaction from members of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport.

Tests will begin in April when the extent of the rocking motion will be discovered.

Subway director Antony Smith said: “I think it will be better, but I don’t think it will be gone.

“It will take testing to prove it.

“I’m afraid the vehicle itself won’t be able to compensate for a lot of the issues we have got in the tunnel.

“We have been doing some realignment of rails, but we are operating within a very confined space.

“There is only so much you can do.”

Mr Smith said the new trains had not shoogled while on a surface test track beside the Subway depot in Govan, but it was straight and flat unlike the system’s curved tunnels.

But he added: “Hopefully, some people will appreciate that [shoogling] is not going to go completely.”

SPT member and North Lanarkshire councillor Colin Cameron had hoped the £288.7m Subway modernisation project would remove the problem.

He said: “I know people that will not use the underground because the shoogle and the shake of the trains gives them travel sickness.”

However, SPT chair Martin Bartos said: “We cannot lose all the character of our Victorian system.”

Malcolm Balfour, a Glasgow City Council member of SPT, said: “I hope we don’t lose the shoogle altogether – that’s part of the character.”

The trains are being tested with containers of water and sand on board to mimic the weight of passengers.

Mr Smith said the trains’ first trial trip on the system earlier this month had been inconclusive for shoogling because it had been at very low speed.

Overnight testing while the Subway is closed to passengers is scheduled to continue for up to a year.

Once in service, the trains are expected to initially operate with a driver on board before switching to “unattended train operation” with no staff travelling with passengers.

That will be a UK first, following some underground lines in Paris, Barcelona and Copenhagen.

Platform safety screen doors will be fitted at stations as part of the switch, similar to those on some London Underground lines.

Several other UK metro systems run without drivers, such as the Docklands Light Railway in London, but have on-board staff to operate the doors.

The Subway upgrade will enable services to run more frequently, with open plan walk-through interiors replacing separate carriages, and passengers able to see along tunnels from windows at each end of the trains.